In my last blog, I spoke about Leadership and Sustainability while explaining briefly what sustainability is and its three interlocking aspects. One of the three interlocking aspects was the Environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability is about the environmental impacts associated with the business while ecological sustainability is about its impacts on biodiversity. And what affects both environmental and ecological sustainability is Energy.
I guess you take the hint that in this blog I will talk about Energy and Sustainability.
Energy constitutes an important part of the environment. Energy production is a dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for 60% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy has always remained a critical pillar contributing to human well-being and poverty alleviation. It is important for economic development. Over the centuries, the ways and means by which we source energy has changed dramatically. One of the most critical challenges that the world faces today is sufficient access to clean energy for all. Hence the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7), which calls for universal access to sustainable energy by 2030.
Evolution of energy sources
Our historical and current energy systems are dominantly based on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. Fossil energy was a fundamental driver of the Industrial Revolution. It also led to the technological, social, and economic development. Our energy production systems have important environmental impacts with carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases that the fossil fuels produce.
It is because of these negative impacts of fossil energy that the world needs to find alternative sources of energy, sources that have a lower impact on the environment.
In order to better understand the energy requirements and eventual transition to cleaner sources, it is important to understand how the energy consumption has changed in a region and across the world; how the energy sources have evolved and what kind of access society has to which energy sources.
For example, according to a World Bank report 2016, only 7% of the world’s low-income households have access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking; the average share in Sub-Saharan Africa was 13%; and approximately one-third in South Asia. An in-depth analysis of these factors would truly reveal our energy requirements and energy source evolution.
The renewable sources of energy broadly include: the traditional biomass (burning of wood, agricultural waste biomass, and the forestry materials), hydropower, solar, wind energy, and other renewables like geothermal energy.
Let’s have a look at global energy consumption.
Global energy consumption
The chart below captures the energy consumption pattern from early 1800s to modern world 2019. While our dependency on traditional biomass has more or less remainedconstant over 219 years, energy production from renewable sources is still a significantly low percentage as compared to total energy generation through fossil fuels.
How much Energy does the World consume:
Global Fossil Fuel Consumption
As seen in the chart below, the main sources of fossil fuel production and consumption are coal, crude oil, and natural gas. Coal was the sole source of energy production until the 1870s after which oil and gas took over. Gas production was 14,119 TWh and oil production 37,024 TWh. Over two decades, it increased to 53,620 TWh and 39,292 TWhrespectively.
Global renewable energy consumption
The Paris climate agreement (December 2015) sets long-term targets for its member nations like reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. There is an ever increasing need of renewable sources to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved with two sources of energy – the renewable technologies and nuclear energy. The chart below shows the renewable energy generation from the 1960s to 2018.
The process of transitioning from the fossil fuels to the renewable sources is termed as decarbonisation. The modern renewables including hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal,and modern biofuel production show a considerable increase since the 1960s with the world producing approximately 6.63TWh of modern renewable energy in 2018. Hydropower accounts for more than 70% of this total production.
Affordable and clean energy – why does it matter?
First the question is “why do we need affordable and clean energy?” and second “what kind of sustainable energy sources?”. It is one of the United Nations Sustainable development goals to have affordable and clean energy.
So why does it really matter?
1. Economic Development: Nations need energy and electricity to power their economies. Without a sustainable source governments cannot achieve sustainable economic development.
2. Reduce Disparity: The divide of the rich and the poor, the privileged and the under-privileged has widened amongst the developed, developing, and third world countries. About 789 million people around the world lack access to electricity (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/energy/)
3. Reduce air pollution: Clean energy is the only solution to the growing air-pollution concerns caused by coal, oil,and gas.4. Better healthcare: Energy is key in facilitating state-of-art healthcare facilities in a country. Fighting diseases, formulating vaccination, and fighting pandemics such as COVID-19 is attainable with a steady supply of energy – even better with renewable and clean one.
I truly believe that every one of us has a role to play in energy consumption / energy saving, reducing greenhouse emissions. A small effort such as switching off the meeting room lights after a meeting, or taking a bike or public transport or walking can go a long way in reducing greenhouse emissions. And for those who live, breathe, and sleep energy, we offer a 100% Online MBA in Energy & Sustainability. Chat with our advisors for more information.